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A $750,000 Taxi Medallion, a Driver’s Suicide and a Brother’s Guilt

来源:纽约时报    2019-12-27 08:11

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        NEW YORK — Richard Chow discovered his younger brother’s taxi abandoned outside Carl Schurz Park, a 15-acre Manhattan oasis overlooking the East River. He began to panic.
        纽约——理查德·周(Richard Chow)发现弟弟的出租车被遗弃在俯瞰东河的15英亩曼哈顿绿洲——卡尔·舒尔茨公园外。他开始紧张起来。
        For months, he had watched his brother and fellow cabdriver, Kenny, struggle under enormous debt. Kenny had grown distant and despondent. Now he had disappeared.        几个月来,他眼睁睁地看着弟弟、出租车司机肯尼(Kenny)为巨额债务而挣扎。肯尼变得疏远和沮丧。现在他又失踪了。
        Richard searched the taxi and then the park, scouring around the gardens, the playgrounds and a bronze statue of Peter Pan. Finally, he called the police.        理查德先在出租车里搜寻,然后进了公园,在花园、游乐场和彼得·潘的铜像周围寻找。最后,他报了警。
        An economic crisis has swept over New York City’s taxi industry, spreading financial ruin and personal despair, especially for owners of medallions, the permits that let people operate cabs. More than 4,000 drivers have used their life savings to buy medallions. Richard and Kenny were among them.        一场经济危机席卷了纽约市的出租车行业,破产和人们的绝望情绪不断蔓延,尤其是在执照勋章——也就是出租车的营运许可证——的持有者当中。超过4000名司机用毕生积蓄购买了它。理查德和肯尼也在其中。
        For more than a decade, as The New York Times has reported this year, taxi industry leaders artificially inflated medallion prices and channeled purchasers into exploitative loans that they could not afford. The medallion bubble began to collapse in late 2014. Prices plummeted. But the drivers remained stuck with massive loans.        正如《纽约时报》今年报道的那样,十几年来,出租车行业领导者人为地抬高了勋章的价格,并且引导购买者背上无力偿还的剥削性贷款。勋章泡沫在2014年底开始破裂,价格暴跌。但这些司机仍然背负着巨额贷款。
        Thousands of owners, almost all born outside the United States, have lost all of their savings. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy. And several have died by suicide.        成千上万的勋章持有者几乎都是在美国境外出生的,他们失去了所有积蓄。已有超过950人申请破产。多人自杀身亡。
        Richard, then 59, and Kenny, 56, immigrants from Myanmar, had survived difficult times in three countries, always living in the same city and working in the same business. In New York, Richard had gotten Kenny into the taxi industry and persuaded him to buy a medallion, a move they believed would secure their futures.        当时59岁的理查德和56岁肯尼是缅甸移民,曾在三个国家度过艰难时期,两人总是生活在同一个城市,做同样的工作。在纽约,理查德把肯尼带进了出租车行业,并且说服他买了一枚勋章,他们相信,这样一来他们这辈子就不用愁了。
        Richard had looked after Kenny their entire lives. His first memory was of a soccer game when his brother got into an argument and he intervened to protect him from getting beat up.        理查德毕生都在照顾肯尼。他最早的记忆是一场足球赛,当时弟弟卷入争吵,他上去干预,让弟弟免遭毒打。
        Myanmar was then called Burma, and its capital, where they grew up, was called Rangoon. Richard was Yu Koon Chow; Kenny was Yu Mein Chow. Their family was from China.        缅甸当时还叫Burma,他们儿时生活的首都还叫大光。理查德原名周玉冠(音);肯尼原名周玉敏(音)。他们的家族来自中国。
        The family — Richard, Kenny, their parents, their grandparents and their eight other siblings — lived in one ground-floor room with no running water. They slept on plywood on the floor. Sometimes they did not eat for days.        一家人——理查德、肯尼、父母、祖父母和其他8个兄弟姐妹——住在一个没有自来水的平房里。他们睡在地上的胶合板上,有时一连几天吃不上饭。
        The family moved to Taiwan in 1980. The brothers got jobs at the same factory, dyeing wool for sweaters. They saved most of their earnings, but occasionally they splurged on a trip to the movies to see the latest American action film.        全家于1980年搬到台湾。兄弟俩进入同一家毛衣用羊毛印染厂工作。他们把大部分收入存起来,不过偶尔也会挥霍一下,去看最新的美国动作片。
        Eventually, they pursued their own American adventure. After an older sister married a Taiwanese American, they got green cards.        终于,他们要去美国冒险了。在一个姐姐嫁给一个台裔美国人后,他们得到了绿卡。
        “We wanted to go to United States because we heard it was the best place,” another brother, Jojo, said in an interview. “We heard about it in movies, in books. We dreamed of going there.”        “我们想去美国,因为我们听说那里是最好的地方,”另一个兄弟乔乔(Jojo)在接受采访时说。“我们从电影和书里知道它的事。我们梦想去那里。”
        One night in late September 1987, several of the siblings boarded the last flight of the day from Taipei to New York. Richard and Kenny sat next to each other.        1987年9月下旬的一个晚上,几个兄弟姐妹登上当天从台北到纽约的最后一班飞机。理查德和肯尼坐在一起。
        ‘I’m the older brother.’        “我是哥哥。”
        When the Chows landed at Kennedy Airport, they did not speak any English.        在肯尼迪机场降落时,周家人一句英语也不会说。
        At first, the siblings lived with their mother in a two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown. Soon, they forged their own paths. Jojo moved to California. A sister moved to Philadelphia.        起初,兄弟姊妹和母亲一起住在华埠一套两居室公寓里。很快,他们找到了各自的出路。乔乔搬到了加利福尼亚。一个姊妹搬到了费城。
        But for years, Kenny followed Richard.        但是那么多年来,肯尼一直跟着理查德。
        They began as restaurant deliverymen, fighting the rain and snow to deliver Chinese food. Then they joined the jewelry business, as diamond setters.        他们一开始给饭店当送餐员,冒着雨雪送中餐。然后他们进入珠宝行业,做钻石镶嵌。
        “I’m the older brother,” Richard said in an interview. “He looking at me. It’s Chinese tradition. The older brother takes care of young brother.”        “我是哥哥,”理查德在接受采访时说。“他得指望我。这是中国的传统。哥哥要照顾弟弟。”
        The older brother entered the taxi industry first, too. He started driving for a fleet in 2005, after a friend suggested it. He liked the job, but he hated waking before sunrise for his shift. So the next year, when the city sold medallions at auctions, he bid.        率先进入出租车行业的也是哥哥。2005年,在朋友的建议下,理查德开始为一个出租车公司开车。他喜欢这个工作,但他讨厌在天不亮就得起床上早班。因此,第二年纽约开始拍卖出租车执照勋章时,他参加了竞拍。
        Richard said he planned to bid about $360,000 until he met with Pearland Brokerage, run by Neil Greenbaum, an influential industry leader. He said a medallion broker with Pearland said the fleet owner Gene Freidman recently had paid $477,000. Richard bid $410,000. He won.        理查德表示,在与皮尔斯兰经纪公司(Pearland Brokerage)搭上线前,他本打算出价约36万美元。该公司由颇具影响力的行业领袖尼尔·格林鲍姆(Neil Greenbaum)经营。他说,皮尔斯兰的一位执照勋章经纪人告诉他,出租车公司所有人吉恩·弗莱德曼(Gene Freidman)最近花了47.7万美元买勋章。最后理查德出价41万美元竞拍成功。
        To pay, Richard agreed to a common financing plan. He borrowed $75,000 from family for fees and a down payment, and he signed a $358,200 loan from Pearland. The deal required him to repay within four years. He did not have a lawyer, records show.        为了付清这笔款项,理查德签了一个常规的融资计划。他向家人借了7.5万美元用于支付手续费和首付,然后与皮尔斯兰签下了35.82万美元的贷款,合同要求他在4年内偿还。记录显示,他当时没有律师。
        Greenbaum and Pearland did not respond to requests for comment.        格林鲍姆和皮尔斯兰没有回复记者的置评请求。
        A few years later, when Kenny’s company moved overseas and laid him off, Richard recommended the cab business. Kenny became a driver and, in a few months, started asking about buying a medallion.        几年后,肯尼的公司搬到海外,解雇了他,理查德向他推荐了出租车行业。肯尼也成了出租车司机,几个月后,他开始询问是不是需要买一个执照勋章。
        “I took him to Pearland,” Richard said.        “我带他去了皮尔斯兰,”理查德说。
        By then, medallion prices were skyrocketing. Large fleet owners like Freidman were intentionally overpaying for medallions to increase the value of their portfolios. Lenders were issuing reckless loans, and as in the housing bubble, the easy money inflated prices more.        那时,执照勋章价格飞涨。像弗莱德曼这样的大出租车公司老板为增加自己投资组合的价值,故意炒高勋章的价格。放贷人不计后果地发放贷款,就像在房地产泡沫时一样,宽松的贷款使得价格进一步膨胀。
        The younger brother could not secure a conventional loan. But he later told friends that a broker helped him to leverage the equity in his house for a down payment to make it work.        肯尼无法获得常规贷款。但他后来告诉朋友,一位经纪人帮他做房产抵押贷款付了首期,解决了这个问题。
        Kenny bought his medallion at a private sale on Aug. 5, 2011. It was only a few years after his brother’s purchase. But including the taxes and fees, it cost more than $750,000.        2011年8月5日,肯尼在一次私下拍卖中买下了他的执照勋章。距离哥哥买到勋章没过几年,但是包括税费在内,他花了超过了75万美元。
        After his loan hit the four-year mark, when he was supposed to repay everything, the nonprofit Melrose Credit Union called and offered to extend his loan and lend him an additional $150,000. He agreed. He said he used the money to repay the family who had covered his down payment. Melrose issued the check in less than an hour, he added.        当贷款达到了四年期限,他应该偿还所有债务时,非营利组织梅尔罗斯信用合作社(Melrose Credit Union)打来电话,提出延长贷款期限,并且再借给他15万美元。他同意了。他说,他把这笔钱用来偿还为他支付首付款的家庭。他还说,梅尔罗斯在不到一小时内开出了支票。
        When medallion prices passed $1 million, the wives implored the brothers to sell.        当执照勋章的价格超过100万美元时,两兄弟的妻子哀求他们把勋章卖了。
        “I’m not scared,” Kenny said, his brother recalled. “Are you scared?”        “我不害怕,”理查德回忆肯尼当时说。“你怕吗?”
        “No,” Richard said. “I trust the city.”        “不,”理查德说。“我信任这座城市。”
        Soon after, the medallion bubble burst.        不久,执照勋章泡沫破裂了。
        ‘He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work.’        “他睡不着。他没法工作。”
        The brothers worked seven days a week, and they only made a little more than they needed for their monthly loan payments. Richard’s was $3,500; Kenny’s was more than $4,000.        兄弟俩每周工作7天,每月收入只比需要偿还的贷款多一点点。理查德要还3500美元;肯尼要还的钱超过了4000美元。
        The math got tougher as ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft grew in popularity, reducing their riders and revenues.        随着优步(Uber)和Lyft等网约车服务越来越受欢迎,他俩的乘客数量和营收都在减少,要维持收支平衡越来越困难。
        Richard said he and Kenny asked for leniency on their loan payments and were rebuffed. Instead, records show, Melrose moved to tighten its grip on the Chows.        理查德说,他和肯尼要求贷款机构通融处理,但遭到了拒绝。记录显示,梅尔罗斯反而增加了对两兄弟的限制。
        Kenny’s original loans listed him as the sole borrower, and his medallion as the only collateral. But in 2016, Melrose added Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor and expanded the collateral to include everything they owned or would ever own. Kenny signed, although it is unclear if he understood the change. He did not have a lawyer.        在最初的贷款中,肯尼是唯一的借款人,他的执照勋章是唯一的抵押品。但在2016年,梅尔罗斯将肯尼的妻子列为共同债务人,并扩大了抵押品范围,包括他们拥有的或未来可能拥有的全部财产。肯尼签了名,至于他是否理解这一变化就不得而知了。他当时没有请律师。
        Melrose, under pressure from its regulator, the National Credit Union Administration, also threatened to sue many medallion owners in 2017.        在其监管机构国家信用社管理局(National Credit Union Administration)的压力下,梅尔罗斯还威胁要在2017年起诉许多执照勋章的所有者。
        A review by the city in response to The Times’ series found that Melrose was one of the industry’s least forgiving lenders. The National Credit Union Administration eventually closed it, citing unsafe and unsound practices.        作为对《纽约时报》系列报道的回应,纽约市展开了一项调查,其中显示梅尔罗斯是该行业最不宽容的贷款机构之一。国家信用社管理局最终关闭了它,理由是它存在不安全、不健康行为。
        A spokesman for the credit union agency said he could not comment on the Chows.        信用社管理局的一位发言人说,他不能对周家的事发表评论。
        In the fall of 2017, the family received another blow. Doctors diagnosed Kenny’s wife with Stage 4 colon cancer.        2017年秋天,这个家庭又遭受了一次打击。医生诊断肯尼的妻子患了4期结肠癌。
        Kenny continued driving and paying off his medallion loans, which still totaled $600,000. But he fell far behind on his mortgage and other expenses. He also could no longer help pay his daughter’s college tuition, and she decided to drop out to help the family, a decision that deepened Kenny’s agony.        肯尼继续开车,还清了那笔总计60万美元的执照勋章贷款。但他难以支付抵押贷款和其他费用。他也无法再支付女儿的大学学费,于是女儿决定辍学帮助家庭,这个决定加深了肯尼的痛苦。
        “He got depressed,” said Wain Chin, an owner-driver and family friend. “He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work. He had to go to the hospital all the time. He had always been quiet, but he got even quieter.”        “他很沮丧,”这家人的朋友、拥有执照勋章的司机韦恩·秦(Wain Chin,音)说。“他睡不着。他没法工作。他不得不经常去医院。他一向沉默寡言,但是现在更沉默了。”
        ‘I’m very scared.’        “我很害怕。”
        On the night that Kenny disappeared, May 11, 2018, Richard clung to hope. He knew driving could be exhausting, so he thought his brother had lain down and fallen into a deep slumber. Or maybe he went on a meditation retreat, or on a hunt for extra money.        2018年5月11日肯尼失踪的那个晚上,理查德抱着一线希望。他知道开车很累,所以他以为弟弟只是躺下沉沉睡去了。或者去做冥想治疗了,又或者是去赚外快了。
        After a week, Richard led a news conference to publicize the case. He distributed posters: “MISSING: 5 feet 6 inches tall. Weight about 140 lbs. Last seen wearing white T-shirt and khaki pants.”        一周后,理查德召开新闻发布会公布了这起案子。他分发海报:“失踪者身高5英尺6英寸。体重约140磅。最后看到时身穿白色T恤和卡其裤。”
        The next day, a television reporter knocked on Kenny’s door and asked his wife if she thought he was alive. “I have no idea,” she said through tears. “I’m very scared.”        第二天,一个电视记者敲开肯尼的门,问他的妻子是否认为他还活着。“我不知道,”她流着泪说。“我很害怕。”
        On May 23, someone spotted a body in the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge, six miles south of the park where Kenny’s cab had been abandoned. It took the authorities three days to confirm the body was Kenny, using dental records.        5月23日,有人在布鲁克林大桥附近的东河边发现了一具尸体,位于肯尼的出租车被丢弃的公园以南6英里处。当局用了三天时间才根据牙医记录确认死者是肯尼。
        At a vigil, Richard could barely speak. “I loved my brother,” he said as he wept. “He was very hardworking. He loved his family. That’s all I want to say.”        悼念仪式上的理查德几乎说不出话来。“我爱我弟弟,”他哭着说。“他非常努力。他爱家人。这就是我想说的。”
        Because of the change listing Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor, she inherited his loan when he died. But it did not torment her for long. She died a few months after her husband. Their daughter, who did not get entrapped in the loan, has returned to college. She is now 23.        由于合同变化,肯尼的妻子也被列为共同债务人,肯尼去世后,她继承了他的贷款。但这并没有令她痛苦很久。她只比丈夫晚几个月去世。他们的女儿没有被这笔贷款所困,已经回到大学。她今年23岁。
        ‘He has turned his grief into armor.’        “他化悲痛为铠甲。”
        It is impossible to know why anyone takes his or her own life. But friends believe Kenny was overwhelmed by his loans and by competition from ride-hailing. They do not think it was a coincidence that he left his cab two blocks from Gracie Mansion, the traditional home of the mayor, in a city that had ignored bad lending practices and allowed Uber and Lyft to encroach.        一个人自杀的原因可能永远无从得知。但朋友们认为,肯尼被贷款和网约车服务的竞争压垮了。纽约市无视不良贷款行为,允许优步和Lyft侵蚀出租车司机的地盘,因此,他们认为,肯尼把出租车停在传统的市长官邸格雷西大厦两个街区外的地方并不是巧合。
        A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio noted he did not take office until 2014. “One of our first actions was halting medallion sales, and we were one of the first and most ardent voices for curbing the rapid growth of corporations like Uber,” she said.        白思豪(Bill de Blasio)市长的发言人指出,他是2014年上任的。“我们首先采取的行动之一是叫停执照勋章的销售,我们是最早也是最积极地要求遏制优步等公司快速增长的声音之一,”发言人说。
        Bill Heinzen, who has been the acting head of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission since March, released a statement that mentioned that his own brother had died by suicide. “The death of Kenny Chow and other drivers deeply affected us,” Heinzen said.        自今年3月以来一直担任纽约市出租车委员会代主席的比尔·海因策(Bill Heinzen)发表了一份声明,其中提到他自己也有个兄弟自杀身亡。“肯尼·周和其他司机的死深深地触动了我们,”海因策说。
        In the days after Kenny’s death, taxi industry leaders seized on the brothers’ story. One group tapped Richard to headline an event for reporters called “How Many More Have to Die?” Another made him the voice of a television ad that asked the New York City Council to cap Uber and Lyft. (The council approved the cap in August 2018.) Even after other drivers died, the Chows continued to serve as the symbol of the devastation.        肯尼去世几天后,出租车行业的领导者们注意到这对兄弟的故事。一个组织让理查德在一个名为“还有多少人要死去?”的媒体活动中担任主角。还有一个组织让他为一则要求纽约市议会限制优步和Lyft的电视广告代言。(议会于2018年8月批准了这项限制。)尽管并不是唯一死去的司机,周家兄弟仍然是这场灾难的象征。
        Richard has attended hearings on the crisis in Manhattan, Albany, New York, and Washington, each one a painful reminder. He usually sits in the front row. He often cries.        理查德参加了在曼哈顿、奥尔巴尼、纽约和华盛顿举行的有关这场危机的听证会,每一次都是一种痛苦的提醒。他通常坐在第一排。他经常哭。
        “He is a tireless warrior for our movement,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents cabdrivers. “He has turned his grief into armor to protect fellow drivers.”        “他在不知疲倦地为我们这场运动而战,”代表出租车司机的纽约出租车工人联盟(New York Taxi Workers Alliance)的巴依拉维·德赛依(Bhairavi Desai)说。“他把悲伤化为保护其他司机的盔甲。”
        Today, Richard is still struggling to pay his own loan. He owes $402,000, and he said it is hard to make the $2,766 monthly payments. He cannot support his daughter and his son, 19, who are both in school.        如今,理查德仍在为偿还自己的贷款而苦苦挣扎。他欠了40.2万美元,他说,每月偿还2766美元非常艰难。他无法养活女儿和19岁的儿子,两人都在上学。
        He said if officials do not bail out medallion owners, as they are now considering, he plans to declare bankruptcy.        他说,官方正在考虑救助执照勋章所有者,如果他们做不到,他计划宣布破产。
        For now, Richard works seven days a week, typically from 10 a.m. until midnight.        目前,理查德每周工作七天,通常是从上午10点到午夜。
        Every day, to get to work, he takes the Brooklyn Bridge, driving over the river where his younger brother took his last breath.        每天他都会经由布鲁克林大桥去上班,在弟弟丧命的那条河上驶过。

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